Due to the overall poor performance of the New Orleans Hornets, the team’s bright spots can be difficult to notice, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
The most pleasant development for the Hornets this season has been the vastly improved play of third-year point guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez’s name doesn’t normally come up when people discuss the best point guards in the league, but he’s improved in each of his three seasons, and is slowly beginning to resemble a top-level starting 1.
For one thing, Vasquez’s passing is phenomenal. He’s averaging 9.0 assists per game this season, good for third in the league behind Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. This would be impressive enough in and of itself, but the achievement becomes more significant when you consider how weak Vasquez’s supporting cast has been.
Eric Gordon has been out for the most of the season, and Anthony Davis missed a fair amount of time as well. Those would be the two players most likely to be on the receiving end of dimes from Vasquez. Instead, he’s managed to find Ryan Anderson for a fair amount of open threes. On the rare occasion that Austin Rivers actually makes a shot, there’s a good chance Vasquez set it up.
Unfortunately, in spite of Vasquez’s strong raw numbers, his advanced stats are decidedly less impressive. His win shares per 48 minutes is a mere .055, well below the league average of roughly .100. Additionally, his defensive rating is a much-too-high 112, while his offensive rating is only 103. He can make plays on offense, but his weak defense stands out, especially on the stat sheet.
So, if Vasquez is such a poor defender, why am I so eager to talk about the leaps he’s made, and praise him for his great assist numbers? Because there have been a ton of great point guards who weren’t strong on the defensive end.
Steve Nash is the most famous example, but in his later years, Magic Johnson was slipping as well. There have been plenty of point guards who were great at navigating their team’s offense, while being absolutely clueless on the other end of the ball.
The problem for Vasquez and the Hornets isn’t that he’s a poor defender, it’s that the Hornets lack any truly strong defensive players. Anthony Davis will likely play better D as he gains experience, but for now, he’s still learning, and he’s going to make mistakes.
The point is, the Hornets have no one to hide Vasquez’s weak defense, so it stands out more. That’s why this is a bad situation for him to be in. If he was on a team where he could focus primarily on putting points on the board, safe in the knowledge that the big men would take care of business on the defensive end, he’d look a lot better.
Ironically, the ideal situation for Vasquez might have been the one he was in before he went to New Orleans, when he was a backup with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
If Vasquez were plugged into their lineup, his weak D would look far less egregious with great defenders like Tony Allen and Marc Gasol being able to cover for him. As it stands, Vazquez is on a team where his inability to stop opposing guards is going to stick out like a sore thumb.
Still, even if Vasquez is far from a perfect player, he’s still a very good one and he has the ability to get better in the future. Anyone who can put up 9 dimes a game passing the ball to the likes of Austin Rivers and Lance Thomas clearly has what it takes to be a quality point guard in the NBA. In order to become an all-star, Vasquez will need to either improve his defense, or move to a squad that plays better team defense, so it won’t stick out as much.
Still, Vasquez has proven that he’s a legitimate starter, and is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player this season. Even if Greivis Vasquez hasn’t perfected his game, he’s still made a ton of huge improvements, and for that, he should be commended.
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